Obituary: Martin Kosleck

Nikolai Yoshkin (Martin Kosleck), actor: born Barkotzen, Pomerania 24 March 1907; married Eleonore von Mendelssohn; died Santa Monica, California 16 January 1994.

'THE MAN You Love to Hate' - if the phrase had not been coined to describe Erich Von Stroheim's portrayal of the brutal Hun of the First World War, then surely it would have been applied to Martin Kosleck, Hollywood's nastiest Nazi of the Second World War. Could any other actor have portrayed Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's Minister of Propaganda, no fewer than five times, and still come up sneering?

Kosleck was born Nikolai Yoshkin in Pomerania, in 1907, moving to Germany as a young man and and training as an actor in Max Reinhardt's dramatic school in Berlin. He appeared in several films, including Napoleon auf St Helena and the science-fiction thriller Alraune (1930). He fled to the United States in 1931, and two years later was in Hollywood making Fashions of 1934. When more film work failed to come his way, he returned to New York and the stage.

It was while Kosleck was acting in The Merchant of Venice that a fellow Russian, Anatole Litvak, saw him and invited him to Hollywood for a role in a film he was then preparing for Warner Brothers. The Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939)set the seal on Kosleck's cinematic career. Extremely daring for an American company of the time (two years before the US entered the war), the star-studded production (Edward G. Robinson, Francis Lederer, Paul Lukas, George Sanders) was based on The Nazi Spy Conspiracy in America, a book by Leon Turron, a G-Man who uncovered the network of Nazi organisations throughout the United States. Kosleck, in a small role, revealed a sinister streak of evil that would sustain him through movie after movie.

Kosleck's roles were both supporting and leading, according to budget. In 'A' films he would slither through a scene or two, his hooded eyes as cold as ice, giving audiences a real thrill of fear. In 'B' movies he would be a sinister surgeon, a deranged doctor, once, even, a Surrealist sculptor. This latter role fitted well with his other profession in real life. When he was not busy on screen he worked as an Impressionist-style portrait-painter. Bette Davis and Marlene Dietrich were both painted by Kosleck.

But it was his impression of Goebbels that will remain in the memories of movie-goers, especially in Paramount's impressive pseudo-documentary The Hitler Gang (1944). Kosleck received fourth billing in the cast-list. The production was by BG DeSylva, Buddy of the trio DeSylva, Brown and Henderson, songwriters to the lighter side of stage and screen. Although The Hitler Gang was promoted in the usual Hollywood way - 'The Greatest Gangster Picture of Them All]' - it was a solid, sincere work with none of the overplaying that could have reduced the facts to burlesque, a fault with so many wartime films. Bobby Watson who had played the Fuhrer for laughs in a pair of Hal Roach comedies, including The Devil With Hitler (1942), gave the straight performance of his lifetime, somewhat spoiling his career as a screen comedian. The rest of Hitler's 'gang' were played by minor actors who all gave of their finest: Alexander Pope as Goering; Victor Varconi as Hess; Luis Van Rooten as Himmler; Alexander Granach as Streicher. It is unfortunate that the film, directed by John Farrow, was considered unsuitable for reissue. It has only recently turned up on Channel 4.

Kosleck, now typed as a Nazi, added his sinister presence to dozens of films, including Espionage Agent, Underground, Berlin Correspondent, Bomber's Moon and Chetniks: the fighting guerrillas. Came victory and he moved into grade 'B' horrors such as The Frozen Ghost, She-Wolf of London, The Mummy's Curse and House of Horrors. This gave him his best-remembered role beyond Goebbels, as an insane sculptor who pulls a monster out of the bay and wins fame with the horrid busts he carves from the creature's distorted face.

The sharp decline in war films and cheap horror pictures saw the virtual end of Kosleck's career, and he returned to Manhattan with his wife, the actress Eleonore von Mendelssohn. In New York he did a little radio work, some television, and 'came back' in a few cheap films. In 1975, interviewed for Who's Who in Hollywood, he told of a book he was then translating from the German original, written by his sister. 'It is a story of love for all the kindred animals, pets or wild ones, amongst whom she lives,' he said, once again giving the lie to the old suspicion that the actor is his role.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links